Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, February 15, 1999

Crime rates going down; McLeod in step with nation

By Russell Victorian

McLeod County Attorney Mike Junge predicted during his 1997 annual report to county commissioners that the crime rate would go down over the next year, and it has.

Crime rates in McLeod County have gone down 20 percent from 1997 to 1998, Junge told commissioners at the Feb. 2 county board meeting. "It is a national trend.

"There is still too much crime, but at least we're seeing a break," he said. "Crime is still at higher levels than what they used to be."

Junge expressed caution concerning the statistics. The number of target offenders, young men ages 15-25, is at a lull right now.

There is another bubble in the 12- to 14-year age group that will reach that target group in a few years, he said.

Nationally, there has been a decrease in high crime areas and in the more serious crimes. Junge said he was not sure if that was the case locally.

Felony and gross misdemeanor adult criminal charges are down to 251 charges in 1998 from 314 in 1997 and 318 in 1996, he said.

Some of the larger decreases were in the areas of theft and driving under the influence of alcohol offenses, according to the county attorney's annual report.

Misdemeanor and petty misdemeanor charges are down to 305 charges in 1998 from 396 in 1997, according to the report, Junge said.

Some of the larger decreases were in the areas of speed and driving while intoxicated, according to the annual report.

One has to question what all these numbers actually reflect, he said. Does it mean the crime rate is down or are the number of referrals down?

Junge said he was not sure, but it may be a little of both. "Overall, I think the county trend is similar to the national trend."

Besides the target group for criminal offenders being down, he said the economy and people being put in prison for longer periods of time also affect crime numbers.

Junge said there are two areas of concern. A disproportionate number of women have been charged in higher level alcohol offenses, offenses with alcohol contents of .20 or higher.

Another concern is that juvenile charges increased slightly in 1998 to 604 charges from 578 in 1997, he said.

The number of juvenile assault charges increased by seven to 77 in 1998, according to the report. Other major increases were in the areas of minor consumption and traffic violations.

Commissioner Sheldon Nies questioned if any of the assaults could have been gang related.

Junge said it depends on how one defines gang. "I'm sure there is some."

In the social service areas, child protection was up and an area of concern. "Children are in need of protection and services," he said.

Junge also said he plans to put more emphasis on child support. "It's an area where we need to spend time and effort.

"It's part of getting people off welfare, and it's cost effective," he said.

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